The light is coming back into the sky.  The days are becoming longer and the winter months are drawing to a close. Soon the snowy trails will be melted out and the weather will be a little kinder.  Spring brings with it a wonderful and incredible energy and a promise of renewal.  This is the time to breath new life into our dreams.
As an endurance athlete I have a multitude of hopes and dreams – races, times, goals, expedition plans.  The list can feel never ending.  But one of the lessons of the journey is to learn to focus and to channel energy into each moment.  One moment at a time.  And so to bring a dream to reality.
I have a ‘big’ dream in 2011.  To return again to The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and to make the very best race that I have inside of me.  It is a dream that will need me to reach deep inside of myself.  This year I want to focus on the challenge of reaching even beyond that which I feel I can do.
There will be many steps along the way.  In the words of one Chinese Proverb, “to get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping“.  Every race, every training run is a step forward, something to learn from, something to build on.
For me the journey of 2011 started ‘on the run’ – literally!  The 1st January 2011 I made the Annapurna 100 – an incredibly beautiful 100km trail race in Nepal.  Taking advantage of a few extra days in Nepal I ‘fastpacked’ myself around the Annapurna Circuit in 5 days.  It is a wonderful journey that takes you through incredible contrasts of landscape, cultures, religion and people.  Being in the ‘off-season’ with far fewer trekkers made the journey doubly special for me.  There was solitude, a time to think and a time just to be in the moment.  Walking literally from the pre-dawn until dusk (not running in order to save myself for the next race), the journey became for me almost a ‘moving meditation’.  Images to remember – from the pastoral scenes of rural mountain villages, to the windswept solitude of the Thorong La (5300m), to the wild landscapes beyond, and back to village life. Fastpacking in and of itself is a wonderful preparation for something like the UTMB.  Invaluable experience of moving fast for hour after hour – long, long days on your feet.  And the next race came soon – another 100km trail race – this time in Hong Kong.  A whirlwind of contrast from the wilds of the mountains, to the endearing chaos of Kathmandu, to the towering skyscrapers of modern Hong Kong where I was invited to compete in the first edition of the Hong Kong 100.  I was so happy and privileged to be a part of both these races and beyond that just to share the trail and the experiences with some wonderful people.
But the end of one race is just the beginning of the journey to the next.  In each of these races I was the 1st lady (4th and 3rd overall, respectively).  But in each there was much to learn and to take forward.  Mistakes and frustrations as well as joy and success!  This is the ‘game’ we are in.
Perhaps we never have a ‘perfect race’.  Each and every race is unique with its own challenges and demands.  But somehow if we can dig deep in there to really ‘be in ourselves’ at every moment of the race – then surely we can reach beyond what we believe possible.
Flexibility and adaptability – it is an essential part of being an athlete – whether we are racing, training or just wanting to keep moving.  Weeks in the depths of an alpine winter – running on snowy trails, running on ice-hard cross country ski tracks, making friends with the treadmill, learning to spend time in the gym, out on snow shoes, ski alpinism, langlauf.
That was my story before dipping briefly into the warmth of the Canary Islands for The North Face Transgrancanaria, a 123km mountain trail race crossing the island of Gran Canaria.  Another win, another experience to learn from and another step along the way.
The start line.  I think it might be one of my favourite places during an ultra race.  Finally you are free.  No more plans or logistics.  No more thinking about if you have the right kit, food or fluid for the distance and conditions.  You will make what you have work.  You have to.  So it is just you and your journey.  A strange and wonderful freedom, and that beautiful yet terrible mixture of apprehension, anticipation, fear, excitement and joy.  Finally all that you have to do is run.  And smile!
The finish line.  It might be another of my favourite places during an ultra.  That and so many moments during the journey, the inbetween.  Because it is those moments that count.  And being ‘in’ the moment?!
In every race we need to run with a little bit of pride and a lot of humility.
There will be times when we feel great and times when we feel we cannot go on, times when we forget everything but getting to the next checkpoint.  There will be moments of camaraderie with supports and fellow competitors, and moments of feeling entirely alone.  Focus and determination.  That is what we need so that we can follow the advice of the King in Alice in Wonderland who said, “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop”.
Whatever your journey in life – reach high, seek far and look deep – and dream.  Then you can be who you are.

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